Faulk happy to be back

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Faulk happy to be back

PITTSBURGH -- Only one thing matters to the Patriots after a game.

The score.

But Sunday at Heinz Field, after being batted around by a supposed paper tiger Steelers team, there was something else. There was a positive thread weaved through New England's 25-17 loss, Bill Belichick's grumbled murmuring, and a largely quiet locker room.

Kevin Faulk.

The Patriots running back returned to action for the first time since September 2010. A torn ACL sidelined Faulk for 13 months and it wasn't a big roster blow just because he's the Patriots' all-time leader in all-purpose yards (12,247), but because of his range. Faulk was also used for returns on special teams and as a check down receiver on third down. His presence as a locker room leader made him invaluable and never wavered throughout the rehabilitation process. Hell, there's almost a mythological aspect to the man because his 13-season tenure dates P.B: Pre-Belichick.

So Faulk's reemergence Sunday was noted with anticipation. Yet he only gave himself a minute to reflect.

"I tell you, it was only one moment: walking in for warm-ups, being able to go on the field and have a uniform on. That was it," he said. "Other than that, it was time to play the game. The game was the most important thing."

For his teammates, having Faulk back is an important part of the plan. Expectations of easing the 35-year old back into game play were quickly blown up -- not only did he start, but his 11 touches (six rushes, five receptions) led all Patriots.

Finally, Tom Brady was reunited with one of the most reliable pass-catching backs of his career, and the chemistry remained. The quarterback was thrilled.

"He's such a spark plug for our offense," Brady said. "He does so many things well. For a guy who didn't play football in a year, it certainly didn't look like it. He played well, played hard, made some big plays running the ball, catching the ball. I'm sure he's going to be sore tomorrow; he took some big hits. But it's great to have him back."

Were they surprised at how fresh he looked? Were eyebrows raised on the bench after his fantastic blitz pickup on a Brady touchdown pass? Was there any doubt Faulk could keep up? Deion Branch shook off the notion firmly.

"No, no, no," he said. "He's been doing it during the weeks in his rehab, looking real good.

"He's a leader, a great guy to have on the team. He's one of the guys I leaned on when I first came in to the league. It was just good for him to be back on the football field. I went through the same injury that he had, the same bounce back. So I know the determination, the passion that he has for the game, and the will that he has to be back on the field with the guys."

Still, there's a fundamental change. Now that he's back, Faulk's focus is on moving forward instead of playing catch-up. He is bound by a small knee brace but shrugged it off. He took some hard hits and shrugged those off too. He's thankful for every bump and bruise because the pain he deals with now is the same heartbreak as the other 52.

"I'm happy for playing, but at the same time, we lost the game. The happiness is going away," Faulk said.

"When you do what you love to do, you think about it and always be aware of it. But at the same time, when you lose a game you're kind of depressed."

Because, once again, the game is the most important thing.

Patriots players got a refresher on NFL social media policy because of Brown

Patriots players got a refresher on NFL social media policy because of Brown

FOXBORO -- Antonio Brown's live stream of coach Mike Tomlin's postgame speech on Sunday had a ripple effect that traveled all the way to New England: Just in case Patriots players weren't familiar with the league's social-media policy, they were reminded of it this week. 

"We were reminded of that," receiver Chris Hogan said. "I’m not sure what the timing is, but obviously, I don’t think we’ll see guys doing that in the locker room."

Players are prohibited from using social media in the locker room until media outlets have been given an opportunity to talk to players following games. Brown's Facebook Live video, which garnered national attention almost as soon as it went online, was shot well before the visitor's locker room at Arrowhead Stadium opened following Pittsburgh's win over Kansas City.

"We have a team policy on that," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "Strictly enforced. We go from there."

Of course part of the reason the video became as widely disseminated as it did was because it caught Tomlin calling the Patriots "a--holes."

"I have a lot of respect for Coach Tomlin," Slater said when asked about Tomlin's speech. "I appreciate the way he prepares his team. I’ve had a good working relationship with him over the years, and it will continue to be that way."

Both Slater and Hogan insisted that their focus will be trained solely on preparing for what Tomlin and his players will do when they arrive to Gillette Stadium Sunday night -- not what they say leading up to kickoff.

"You come in here, you're automatically bought into what we preach here, what coach [Bill] Belichick preaches," Hogan said. "It's football. We're 100 percent football here. It's not about anything outside. Between the media or whatever it is outside of football, whatever we're doing. When we come here, it's 100 percent football. That's all we're focused on is the opponent we're playing that week."

Whether Goodell visits Foxboro or not, Patriots players say they don't care

Whether Goodell visits Foxboro or not, Patriots players say they don't care

FOXBORO -- Roger Goodell will reportedly be in Atlanta for the NFC Championship Game this weekend and therefore will miss the AFC title game between the Patriots and Steelers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. His absence will mean he hasn't been to a Patriots game in more than two years, when he was present for the AFC title game in 2015 -- the birth of Deflategate. 

It's news that broke on Tuesday and sent some Patriots fans into an uproar. Patriots players, though, sound like they're having a hard time caring one way or the other.

"He’s the commissioner, so obviously whatever he wants to do, he can do," Tom Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Monday. "If he wants to come, that would be -- yeah, he can come."

In the Patriots locker room on Tuesday, others struck a similar tone.

"I could not care less," said Patriots receiver Chris Hogan. "I'm focused on Pittsburgh and their defense and studying them as much as I can this week, watching them as much as I can so that I can go out there on Sunday and be prepared."

Special teams captain Matthew Slater was similarly disinterested in the discussion.

"The game's going to be played," he said. "Whoever's in attendance is in attendance. We'll just worry about trying to play well."